Can History Be Open Source?

July 13th, 2006 by Tom Elliott

The Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has recently posted to the web a long and thoughtful article by Roy Rosenzweig entitled “Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past.” It was originally published in The Journal of American History Volume 93, Number 1 (June, 2006): 117-46. [Spotted on the Maps History discussion list in a post by Joel Kovarsky].

Rosenzweig does a good job explaining the origins, development and practices of Wikipedia for a professional, academic audience unfamiliar with the details. R. goes on to examine “Wikipedia as History,” comparing the breadth, depth, accuracy and style of its treatment of historical topics to that found in other popular and professional encyclopedic works.

R. concludes with a section entitled “Why Should We Care? Implications for Historians” in which he opines:

Still, Wikipedia and Linux show that there are alternative models to producing encyclopedias and software than the hierarchical, commercial model …. And whether or not historians consider alternative models for producing their own work, they should pay closer attention to their erstwhile competitors at Wikipedia than Microsoft devoted to worrying about an obscure free and open-source operating system called Linux.

Leave a Reply